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From BMC Public Health: "It's how we get to know each other"

“It’s how we get to know each other”: Substance use, connectedness, and sexual activity among men who have sex with men who are living with HIV by Amelia M. Stanton, Megan R. Wirtz, Jacob E. Perlson & Abigail W. Batchelder, published in BMC Public Health volume 22, Article number: 425 (2022) on 03 March 2022 (Visit the page; download the full PDF )

Background: Among MSM, substance use increases risk for acquiring HIV and is associated with sub-optimal engagement in HIV-related care. Most research related to substance use and sexual activity among MSM focuses on identifying and reducing risk of HIV acquisition and transmission rather than pleasure and agency. However, substance use may also facilitate sexual pleasure and build community, which could be particularly meaningful for individuals who cope with intersecting stigmas related to the disease, sexual identity, and drug use.

Methods: To explore the ways in which substance use both promotes and hinders positive sexual expression and healthy sexual relationships, we conducted a secondary analysis of 33 semi-structured qualitative interviews with MSM living with HIV who were poorly engaged in care and reported recent substance use.

Results: Thematic analysis revealed that substance use was perceived as: (1) a potential pathway to intimacy and enhanced sexual experiences; (2) a tool to help access partners and gain entry to a community; and (3) a source of empowerment, though some noted that it sometimes came at the cost of sexual disempowerment and unbalanced relationships.

Conclusions: Clinically, our results suggest that the complex motivations for substance use during sexual activity need to be carefully considered and discussed with patients, especially when attempting to decrease problematic use as a pathway to improved HIV self-care.

[Credits: Shared on MSM Sexual Health - Asia. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash]

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